ref·​er·​ence | \ ˈre-fərn(t)s How to pronounce reference (audio) , ˈre-f(ə-)rən(t)s \

Definition of reference

 (Entry 1 of 3)

1 : the act of referring or consulting
2 : a bearing on a matter : relation in reference to your recent letter
3 : something that refers: such as
b : something (such as a sign or indication) that refers a reader or consulter to another source of information (such as a book or passage)
c : consultation of sources of information
4 : one referred to or consulted: such as
a : a person to whom inquiries as to character or ability can be made
b : a statement of the qualifications of a person seeking employment or appointment given by someone familiar with the person
c(1) : a source of information (such as a book or passage) to which a reader or consulter is referred
(2) : a work (such as a dictionary or encyclopedia) containing useful facts or information



Definition of reference (Entry 2 of 3)

: used or usable for reference especially : constituting a standard for measuring or constructing


referenced; referencing

Definition of reference (Entry 3 of 3)

transitive verb

1a : to supply with references
b : to cite in or as a reference
2 : to put in a form (such as a table) adapted to easy reference

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Synonyms for reference

Synonyms: Noun

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Examples of reference in a Sentence

Noun references to an earlier event The numbers were calculated by reference to the most recent census. Reference to a map will make the position clear. She listed her former teacher as a reference when she applied for the job. Her former teacher gave her a reference when she applied for the job. Her teacher gave her a letter of reference. Adjective a list of reference materials Verb The book references many other authors who have written on this topic.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun His shirt said made reference to the Greek goddess Aphrodite. Erin Jensen, USA TODAY, "'Masked Singer': Orca is fin-ished; the season's last Wildcard is revealed in Group A finals," 15 Apr. 2021 Cuomo made the reference shortly after he was elected as New York’s attorney general in 2006, the New York Times Magazine reported. Thomas Barrabi, Fox News, "Andrew Cuomo once compared himself to Sonny Corleone from 'The Godfather': Report," 14 Apr. 2021 Now, two other faculty members have come forward saying Davis also made a shocking reference to the Holocaust in a department meeting. oregonlive, "Professor says Linfield President Miles K. Davis made anti-Semitic comments; Davis alleges ‘smear campaign’," 12 Apr. 2021 The flyer, which made reference to her previous name, and made a series of statements about Larson and her history, was mailed out to homes in the community by Wilke’s Avon Community Engaged political organization. James T. Norman,, "Kristal Larson declares victory in bid to become first out transgender person elected to nonjudicial office in Illinois," 7 Apr. 2021 The actress, who is nominated for a SAG Award tonight, does not make a reference to her crimson handbag in her statement, ostensibly letting the message speak for itself. Zoe Guy, Marie Claire, "Jamie Chung Made a Powerful Statement on the SAG Awards Red Carpet," 5 Apr. 2021 Nirenberg noticed the difference and made a pointed reference to it. Bruce Selcraig, San Antonio Express-News, "`Misunderstood' and hoping to shed toxic image, Brockhouse rides again in San Antonio mayoral contest," 4 Apr. 2021 Some require out-of-state visitors to get tested and quarantine and make no reference to vaccinations, although may change with the new CDC guidance. Terry Demio, The Enquirer, "Is it safe to travel? We ask disease experts, give the latest COVID-19 guidance from CDC," 2 Apr. 2021 Recently, developers stumbled across new data strings in the macOS Big Sur 11.3 beta which make reference to two brand new iMac models. Yoni Heisler, BGR, "Apple just leaked two unreleased products in its latest beta software," 25 Mar. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective This process sees them cross-reference lists of the dead from the Washington Department of Health and the Social Security Administration. Tim Gruver, Washington Examiner, "Inslee's reelection opponent is turning his claims of mass voter fraud into a lawsuit," 11 Dec. 2020 The access could help OFAC cross-reference information with other investigators, including those in the U.S. intelligence community, said Mr. Lorber, a former senior adviser to the Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence. Jack Hagel, WSJ, "Treasury and Delaware Sign Pact to Boost Sanctions Enforcement," 7 Sep. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb At the same time, the provision is statutorily ambiguous and doesn’t explicitly reference wide-scale student loan forgiveness or state that Congress is transferring unlimited power to cancel all student loans to the executive branch. Zack Friedman, Forbes, "If Biden Won’t Cancel Student Loans, Here’s One Reason Why," 20 Apr. 2021 Four were marked for further review, but the emails don’t reference what came of those applications. Mark Thiessen, Anchorage Daily News, "Alaska denied Permanent Fund dividend to same-sex spouses for years despite court rulings," 16 Apr. 2021 At her press event that morning, Bysiewicz didn’t reference frontline essential workers. Emily Brindley,, "Gov. Lamont’s inner circle agonized over image, messaging amid controversial age-based rollout of Connecticut’s COVID-19 vaccine program, documents show," 15 Apr. 2021 The report did not reference the Hunter Biden laptop story, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence reached no public conclusions related to it. Jerry Dunleavy, Washington Examiner, "Hunter Biden admits laptop 'certainly' 'could be' his," 2 Apr. 2021 While Gallego did not reference Gutierrez’s bill in his letters, his rush to shut down the foundation and collect its funds could be tied to concerns that foundation money might soon end up under the auspices of a new university system. Gilbert Garcia, San Antonio Express-News, "Garcia: Former congressman Pete Gallego feuds with university foundation and state senator," 2 Apr. 2021 That meant putting Indy’s best foot forward — sandwich boards and storefront signs, banners welcoming fans to the city and, perhaps most notably, maps of downtown for people to reference during their visit. Zach Osterman, The Indianapolis Star, "'One of the first steps': The story of Indy's transformative first Final Four," 2 Apr. 2021 There’s also another reason why Marvel might not want to reference Steve. Chris Smith, BGR, "There’s a huge problem with ‘Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ that no one’s talking about," 2 Apr. 2021 Entries don’t have to reference beer beyond the company’s familiar blue ribbon logo. Deborah Martin, San Antonio Express-News, "Pabst Brewing Co. opens art gallery in San Antonio's Southtown to show blue-ribbon work," 17 Mar. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'reference.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of reference


1579, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1856, in the meaning defined above


1876, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

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Time Traveler for reference

Time Traveler

The first known use of reference was in 1579

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Statistics for reference

Last Updated

28 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Reference.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 7 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for reference



English Language Learners Definition of reference

 (Entry 1 of 3)

: the act of mentioning something in speech or in writing : the act of referring to something or someone
: the act of looking at or in something for information
: a person who can be asked for information about another person's character, abilities, etc.



English Language Learners Definition of reference (Entry 2 of 3)

: used to find information about something
: used to tell people where information can be found



English Language Learners Definition of reference (Entry 3 of 3)

: to mention (something or someone) in speech or in writing : to refer to (something or someone)


ref·​er·​ence | \ ˈre-fə-rəns How to pronounce reference (audio) , ˈref-rəns \

Kids Definition of reference

1 : the act of looking at or in something for information Reference to a map will make our location clear.
2 : a relation to or concern with something I am writing in reference to your advertisement.
3 : the act or an instance of mentioning They made no references to my error.
4 : a work (as a dictionary) that contains useful information
5 : something that refers a reader to another source of information
6 : a person who can be asked for information about another person's character or ability
7 : a written statement about someone's character or ability


ref·​er·​ence | \ ˈref-(ə-)rən(t)s How to pronounce reference (audio) \

Medical Definition of reference

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: of known potency and used as a standard in the biological assay of a sample of the same drug of unknown strength a dose of reference cod-liver oil


Medical Definition of reference (Entry 2 of 2)

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ref·​er·​ence | \ ˈre-frəns, -fə-rəns How to pronounce reference (audio) \

Legal Definition of reference

1 : an act of referring specifically : mention or citation of one document (as a statute) in another a municipality may adopt by reference all or a part of this title Alaska Statutes — see also incorporate
2 : a referral especially to a legislative committee or master also : an order referring a matter to a master the extent to which any party is more responsible than other parties for the reference to a master Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 53(g)

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